Friday, November 27, 2009

Sleeping Arrangements for Houseguests

I hope that your Thanksgiving (or regular ol’ week if you don’t do Turkey Day for whatever reason) was outstanding. I’m writing this entry a day early and setting it to auto publish tomorrow (today from your perspective) because my family’s celebrating a day late. Travel and work schedules didn’t work out so well for Thursday, which is fine. Thanksgiving is about family more than anything else, at least in my opinion, so we’re happy to put off turkey and dressing for one day if it means that we can eat and spend time together.

This week, let’s talk about accommodating extra family members or friends. That’s a good subject because a) many of us have family over, especially around holidays and b) in a sufficiently large emergency, your relatives could very well drop in on you. Not all of them will give you warning in advance, so there’s no good way to predict how many folks you’ll have to house, feed, clothe, etc. should something go wrong.

Despite not necessarily knowing how many people you can expect, you can probably accommodate a few houseguests, especially if they’re family. (Many of us will go an extra two or three miles in order to help out family, which is good.)

Even in small houses like our trailer, it’s possible to squeeze in some extra people for a few days, if not weeks or even months. We’ve done just that before plenty of times, and are doing it right now because Wayward Bro’s home for the holidays (very cool, by the way – we’ve missed him). Sleeping arrangements tend to pose the biggest challenges, but a little planning in advance tends to make things work out. Here are some tips and ideas for the time when your people show up on your doorstep.

No matter what sleeping arrangements you make, people are going to need bedding. Don’t assume that someone who’s dropped in on you without calling first is going to be prepared enough to bring blankets and pillows. Even if that person did grab bedding before heading to your place, it’s better to have too much than too little. You can pick up fantastic bedding for very good prices at thrift stores and garage sales. Give the pieces a thorough cleaning, make sure that they’re completely dry, and use your Food Saver to seal them up. These vacuum-sealed packages take up only a small amount of storage space and are protected from pretty much everything (assuming, of course, that you don’t store them in a harsh environment). I use the Food Saver for “off-season” bedding: the big blankets in the summer and the thin ones in the winter, but that method will also work for storing extra bedding for guests.

When Wayward Bro came home Thursday, he brought his U.S. military cot with him. He found this item at a surplus dealer for about thirty-five bucks. The cot is relatively small; folds up into a really small bundle for storage; and is made of durable materials. My brother found his locally, but USMilitarySurplus has them for…um…a rather-high price in my opinion. You can, however, get the cot’s exact dimensions as well as a photo if you visit the site.

You can, if necessary, make the cot even more comfortable with one of those foam toppers, or by folding up some blankets and lying on top of them. In my experience, these cots are fine the way they come, but we’re all different.

Alternatively, you can use bunk beds. That’s how Mom and Dad managed to fit three boys into one bedroom and two girls into another when we were growing up. Granted, we were much smaller than we are today, but you can squeeze even bigger bunk beds into tight places.

I don’t, however, like pallets on the floor – for a few reasons. One is that a cot or other bed that’s off the floor gives a little storage space underneath. You can put your shoes and day clothes under a cot or bunk bed and not trip over them if you need to get up in the dark. I also dislike the floor because I’ve yet to sleep on one that’s actually comfortable. I always – even when I was a spry, carefree kid – wake with stiff joints (which puts me in a bad mood).

If weather permits, you might pitch tents near the house and put people out there. That idea depends on various factors, though, including the type of emergency (I wouldn’t put people outside if there were, say, a toxic-chemical spill in the area); how much room you have in your yard/outdoor area; and what the area’s like (it would really stink if one of your relatives were mauled by a bobcat or devoured by mosquitoes, after all).

Some of you are bound to have other ideas. What’s worked for you all as far as beds/cots go? We’re all here to learn, so comments are, as always, encouraged.

If you want to give people a bit of privacy – which, by the way, becomes more and more important as your time together drags on – you can suspend blankets from the ceiling. That’s what my sister and I did when we had to share a bedroom. We hung blankets around our bunk beds to form private sleeping areas. I was much more comfortable in my own bed after the blankets went up. Maybe it has something to do with the illusion of privacy? I really don’t know, but it worked.

You might also try to keep kids separated by both gender and general age group. My sister is eight years younger than I am, so we didn’t have diddly in common when we were growing up. I wanted to stay up later, being a teenager and all, and she wanted to play with her obnoxious toys. Maybe these kinds of things won’t be big problems if you’re dealing with an all-out crisis, but a little separation will keep the kids in better moods…which, of course, makes your job as the adult a bit easier.

It also helps to give everyone a chore related to the sleeping area. When each of the people who use that area have a task that they can perform (even little kids can do things like collect the pillows and put them in the storage area), they tend to be in better moods. Human nature leans toward doing: if we have a task, we’re usually happier than if we’re just sitting around, thinking about the situation that we’re in.

Also, making sure that everyone has an assigned task can prevent some arguments, especially in the kids’ area. Kids love to gripe, as anyone with kids (or, like me, a bunch of younger sibs) will tell you. “He isn’t doing anything.” “She messed up my area.” “Tell that jerk to stop throwing his candy wrappers on my bed.” If they’re all busy with their small, but important, chores, they won’t be quite so quick to argue over who’s not doing anything, or whatever else.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thrift-store Finds

Happy Thanksgiving to all the people who are celebrating next week. We like smoked turkey here at The Homestead, but I hope that whatever holiday meal you prefer is nice and tasty!

I’ve been dealing with schoolwork, laundry, and other mundane things all day. I got up late because I went to bed late, so I’m off schedule in a bad way today. That’s all right, though, because I work best at night: my circadian rhythms just aren’t designed for the morning-person stuff.

Anyway: Some of you probably know by now that I have a tough time driving past a thrift store, especially when I have a few bucks in my pocket and something specific on my mind. Thrift stores are fantastic places to find all sorts of neat things, most of them in decent (or even new) condition. If you have enough knowledge about what you’re trying to find, you can come out of these stores with great stuff for little to nothing compared to the retail price.

Earlier this week, I visited the huge thrift store by my campus and came home with an old, Dell keyboard. That’s a big deal to me because I really like the old, sturdy keyboards: they’re more comfortable to use; don’t wear out nearly as quickly as the new, cheap crap does; and aren’t very expensive. The Dell that I snagged cost me all of four bucks and, after I get my ten-dollar signal converter from Amazon in order to connect the device to my computer, I’ll be ready to go. For fourteen bucks, I could get a keyboard from Walmart that’ll fall apart in six months or so…or I could get something that doesn’t suck. Yeah, that’s not a hard decision.

Of course, your local thrift store is a fantastic source for all kinds of other things, from clothes and cookware to books and electronics. The inventory is unpredictable, of course, so it’s a good idea to stop in on a regular basis. Making friends with some of the employees also helps, because one might be willing to put aside something that he or she thinks you’ll like.

I’ve found all sorts of great clothes, including jeans and tee shirts. I’ve come home with a keyboard for Mom’s computer as well as some shirts that I knew she’d like. I’ve found books and CDs, too, for just a few bucks each (if that much).

There’s also some survival-related stuff at thrift stores. I’ve seen all kinds of backpacks, for example, which make great bug-out or get-home bags. You sometimes find different types of cookstoves, such as Coleman models, for decent prices. Hurricane lamps, hand-powered kitchen gadgets, and rain gear are also on the shelves or in the bins.

So, if you’re worried about not being able to afford the gear that you need, make a list of what you’re trying to find and start haunting thrift stores. Garage sales are good, too, by the way.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Watson the Wonder Dog

I’m getting another stinking migraine, so please bear with me today, folks. School’s been stressing me right out, so I’ve been getting these skull bangers over the last couple of weeks. And I thought that the month before graduation was supposed to be a little easier than this. Hah!

Let’s talk about dog training today, mmkay? Mom just adopted a Rottweiler from a local drunk who was starving the poor puppy – seems that the dog growled at the drunk’s illegitimate offspring when it got too close to the food dish. Anyway…Mom’s happy because she got to save a dog from a piece of garbage, and the dog’s happy because he actually sees a food dish every day.

Anyway…the dog’s only about six months old, but that’s more than old enough for basic training. Mom’s been working with the little guy (who isn’t, by the way, so little) for a few hours every day (interspersed throughout the day, that is). He’s quickly learning his name (“Watson”), as well as commands like “come” and “sit.” Watson genuinely wants to please Mom, which is a big help because he wants to hear “Good boy! Oh, good boy, Watson. You sit so well.”

If you keep in mind that your dog probably wants to make you happy, then basic obedience training is not usually too difficult. Your main challenge lies in communicating your desires to the dog so that he can associate your commands – verbal, visual, whatever – with the appropriate response.

Here’s how Mom trains her canine pals. More often than not, the training works well and takes only a few weeks to really kick in. Remember, though, that I’m talking only of basic, obedience training: none of us are experts at raising proper guard dogs or other, such things.

Teaching the dog his name
Just keep saying the dog’s name over and over when you speak to him. Use the name as punctuation, in fact, so that the dog hears it plenty of times. Soon enough, he’ll figure out that he’s “Watson,” or “Fido,” or whatever, and will start looking your way when you say it in the future.


“Hey, Watson. You’re a good boy, Watson – such a good Watson. Do you like your new food dish, Watson? Oh, yes, Watson likes the dish. Good boy, Watson.”

Yes, that’s annoying as crap, even to type out. But it works. Watson already turns around to look at us about twenty-five percent of the time when we say “Watson,” and he’s been here for only a few days…and we didn’t name him, officially, until last night.

Coming when called
If the dog receives some kind of reward every time he comes to you, he’s going to come when you call him. Watson gets petted sometimes and told that he’s a very good boy. Other times, he gets a piece of a doggy biscuit. When he finally decides to pick out a toy of his very own (so far, he isn’t into any of the ones that we’ve offered him), we’ll also use that: if you call the dog’s name while waving the toy around or making it squeak or whatever, the dog will usually respond.

Even after the dog’s very good at coming every time he’s called, you should still reward him. No, you don’t have to give him a doggy biscuit every time he comes from now until his death, but petting or “Good boy – such a good Watson” aren’t bad ideas…maintaining the training and all that.

Mom doesn’t push down on the dog’s back end to show him what she wants: instead, she makes him do the sitting, then rewards him.

She starts by taking a piece of a doggy treat in one hand and making the visual sign for “sit.” While she does this, she gives the command: “Watson, sit.” As she speaks, she slowly moves the hand with the treat up and over the dog’s head: Watson sits down, naturally, because he’s trying to keep the treat in sight.

As soon as his butt touches the floor, he gets the treat and a litany of, “Good Watson – you sit so well. Watson knows how to sit, doesn’t he? Good sit, Watson.”

Again: annoying, but effective.

Those are just the things that Watson’s already learning. Unfortunately, the drunk didn’t do much with the poor dog, so Watson doesn’t know a lot. He’s not even housebroken, I’m sorry to say, but we’re working on that as well as the commands.

It’s important to train your dog because you are then in control of the situation. If he knows that you’re in charge, and if he knows what to do when you give commands, then both of you are happier. He gets to please you, and you don’t have to worry about a disobedient, reckless dog tearing through the house or neighborhood.

Ultimately, Mom’s thinking that Watson will make a good travel buddy when she leaves the house. Before she can find out for sure if Watson’s suited for that kind of thing, though, she has to get through the basic training. Even if Watson ends up being another lump on the living-room floor (like most of our other dogs), at least he’ll be a well-trained lump.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Talking About Prepping

To me, it’s important to talk about preparedness with neighbors, family, and friends. That’s because, the more people are prepared, the easier my life is going to be when we have to actually use those preps. There will be more people taking care of themselves, so there won’t be as many panicking, clueless folks running around. Those of us in the survivalist/prepper community will have more allies, too, which is usually a big plus. I’m thrilled whenever I hear about another prepper joining the “movement,” even if her progress is limited to buying an extra five bucks’ worth of groceries each week, because that’s one more person I don’t have to worry about when things go terribly wrong.

However, I don’t run around telling people, “Hey, the world’s going berserk – let’s all stockpile a year’s worth of food and other stuff!” Frankly, I don’t want the rest of my small community to know that they could, in theory at least, drop in on my family and me when things finally go completely insane and there isn’t easy, affordable access to essentials like food. If God sends someone my way, I’m happy to help – but I don’t want half the county knocking on my door when things go terribly wrong.

However, I encourage people I know to be prepared for other, lesser situations. Most of these folks are very receptive to the concept of shopping grocery-store sales and buying extras, for example, because they see rising food prices and know, intuitively, that crap’s only going to get worse. They aren’t convinced that everything will be just fine, so they’re happy to follow my family’s example of getting extras when they’re cheap and putting away as much of that food as we can.

Everyday situations are fantastic things to discuss, by the way. I tend to focus on rising food prices because my part of Texas is rather poor. Lots of us are at or below poverty level, and grocery-store bills are not always easy to afford. Even neighbors who don’t have much to worry about re: basic bills nod their heads when we talk about how everything is getting more expensive – and some of these people are starting to show concern because they’ve figured out that, at some point, the rising prices will become real problems for them, too.

However, I’m not a doomer when I talk about this stuff. I don’t segue into my, “the world’s going berserk” speech because I’m trying to avoid a) causing panic, and b) earning a reputation as the community’s chief nutjob. Sorry, folks, but a lot of our neighbors and friends aren’t going to believe us right now when we talk about end-of-the-world scenarios. They’re struggling to accept the reality of higher grocery bills…and some of them are still fuming over having to drop to a basic cable package several months ago. If they haven’t yet processed the everyday problems, they’re not going to have an easy time grasping the huge things that some of us are so concerned about.

I also talk about situations that my family and I have actually faced. A creek crosses the only road leading in and out of The Homestead, and said creek floods when there’s enough rain. This year alone, we’ve been stranded here at home more than five times because of flooding.

When I talk about the flooded road, I always add that I’m glad we have plenty of stuff at home to keep us fed, clothed, warm, etc. despite not being able to go to the store. Even when we’ve been stuck here for two days in a row, we’ve never missed a meal or gone without any of the other essentials. There’s always plenty in the house to get us through even the longest flood.

People tend to react positively to all that because they see that being prepared for these situations really does pay off, at least in my family’s case. They can see, for themselves, that we’re right to always have plenty of groceries at home: we’ve actually had to use the provisions, so our preparedness paid off.

But try telling these same folks that you’re stockpiling against the possibility of the Antichrist showing up while you’re still alive…or that you’re convinced that hyperinflation could hit this country…and, well, you’re a nutter.

So…I’d suggest sticking to basic, real situations that actually happen, like natural disasters and short paychecks. However, we also have to accept that some people simply will not listen. I recently spoke with one guy who is convinced that, regardless of what happens, he can just take his debit card to Walmart and grab anything that he needs. He does not understand that a whole bunch of other people will get the same idea; the shelves could be empty by the time he gets there; the debit card may not work when he swipes it; roads might be impassable when he decides to get off his butt and go shopping…so forth and so on.

I just leave those folks alone because they aren’t going to listen no matter how reasonable and logical I am when I present my point of view. Even when I offer solid evidence for prepping – like being stranded at home with a flooded road – guys like that have the, “It can’t happen to me” attitude. This guy in particular is convinced that his road could never flood because he lives in a city, not the middle of nowhere, and therefore has better maintenance as well as city workers who can fix the problem.

Whatever…I hope that he can take care of his family should something go wrong, but I doubt that he’ll have that ability. He doesn’t want to take even simple, reasonable steps, and that’s his choice and problem.

Fortunately, most of the people who hear what I have to say are more receptive than that. Many will agree with the basic, simple things that I talk about, and some will actually go out and start doing them – like getting extra food, or making sure that they know where their flashlights are in case of a power outage. That’s why I’m so optimistic about discussing the ideas: they’re well received more often than not, so there’s hope that we can continue spreading the ideas and helping more people take care of themselves.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm